This common knee injury typically requires reconstruction surgery, but a new type of treatment that harnesses biologics is changing that
A blown anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is the fear of athletes everywhere, or almost anyone who has a knee. Treatment for a torn ACL typically involves surgically reconstructing the ligament with harvested tissue.
But what if a new type of treatment could prompt the ruptured ligament to just grow back together again, eliminating the need to harvest replacement tissue?
Moving beyond reconstruction toward restoration, or enabling the ligament to repair itself, is the idea behind an emerging area of orthopedics that looks to harness biologics—in some cases animal tissue augmented with human blood and other growth factors—to rally the body’s natural healing processes.
One method that’s already in use in some cases is the Bridge-Enhanced ACL Restoration Implant—known as the BEAR implant—which encourages the stumps of a torn ACL to grow back together. The procedure utilizes a cylindrical marshmallow-like implant made of bovine collagen injected with a patient’s blood, and the growth factors therein that proponents say can help jump-start healing.
BEAR can be used if part of the patient’s ligament remains attached to the tibia, or shinbone. A surgeon arthroscopically places the implant between the ACL stumps still attached to the tibia and femur, and it is secured with stitches. Over the next six weeks, new cells grow between and reconnect the torn ends, using the implant as a guide. The bovine tissue is absorbed into the body within eight weeks, according to Rita Paparazzo, vice president of clinical operations at Westborough, Mass.-based Miach Orthopaedics Inc. which makes the implant.
“It really just acts as a scaffold, more or less,” Ms. Paparazzo said. “It really is a combination of new growth and merging the old torn ends, and you have your anatomical ACL back.”
Image Credit: Maciek Jasik / The Wall Street Journal